Rachel King Parry is a visual artist based in Toronto, Canada. Active since 2012, she is primarily surrealist in nature, with a body of work that crosses a variety of genres. Inspired by Salvador Dali, Brian Froud, and Norman Rockwell, her paintings explore the human experience, touching on mythology, science, history, and nature.
After deciding to dedicate herself to her art full time, she sells her work through her website, selling original paintings and prints of her work. I spoke with Rachel about the challenges of being an artist and her dedication to painting as a full-time independent business.
Tell me about your background as an artist.
I had a difficult time making friends as a child. I was a weird-looking, socially inept dorky kid. I made my own friends out of drawings, scraps of fabric sewn into little dolls, and I wrote them back-stories. In high school, I developed my first non-Bon-Jovi crush, and it was on the art teacher. He encouraged me to keep creating art, and I was eager to find any reason at all to stay in that classroom. When I graduated, I stayed the course and enrolled in York University’s BFA program. I didn’t finish my degree, unfortunately. I got lost discovering that some people liked you MORE for being eccentric and dropped out.
How would you describe your work?
In a single word, eclectic. Most visual artists I’ve met tend to pick a subject matter or style like it’s a lifelong thesis and stick to it. I prefer to make stories appear on canvas. The adventures that my imagination embarks on, like the books and mythology I’ve been reading since my youth. Sometimes they take the form of character portraits. Sometimes they’re visuals of a play on words or jokes. Sometimes they’re a visual exploration of a field of study I find myself reading into, which I do daily. I also have a couple more abstracted series’, one of treating Hubble nebula photos as Rorschach images and painting a version with the actualization of what I see, and one of acrylic pouring. So it is not easy to describe my work as a body, except as stories.
What motivated you to start your own business?
I started working in a long string of different minimum wage jobs, retail, food, and the like. They were unfulfilling. I took improv classes, belly dancing classes, danced in the Lunacy Cabaret and met Braz, who did everything in his power to encourage me to focus on making art again. He helped me set myself up in a collective gallery at Dundas and Lansdowne. By then, I was also completely resentful of how little personality you’re allowed to have in regular Joe jobs. And then, we found out Braz had cancer. I painted in his solarium/music studio while he worked on his album. We were going to treatments multiple times per week. Chemo, endless tests, thoracentesis.
Even so, he faded away. After his funeral, I spent one last night at his condo, thinking that you could work your life away, and call yourself lucky if you live long enough to retire. You could work yourself to death and offer nothing back to the world except somebody else’s profit. Even though I was technically homeless for several months, I slept at the gallery, sometimes on a friend’s couch, and I never felt that that was a worse life than any job I’d ever had to hold down. I decided that if I was going to toe the line of poverty either way, I had little to lose by becoming an artist full time.
What challenges did you face in the beginning?
I think I had a bit of an inflated ego. I hadn’t done my ten thousand hours of mastery yet, and I often found myself frustrated that it was so hard to connect with clientele. I had thinner skin and didn’t handle rejection quite as well. I also lacked some of the equipment I use to create artwork and the connections to help it get seen. Most of all, I lacked perspective, which is something I’m sure I’ll list as a challenge again if you were to ask me about the same some years down the road.
How do you promote your business? What kind of marketing do you do?
Most of my marketing is done over social media. Most of my online sales have been thanks to Facebook. I share my pieces’ progress as I’m working on them so that my friends and audience can feel like they’re a part of the creation process. Sometimes they do offer solid suggestions, and I tag them with credit when the work is finished.
Sometimes this has the bonus of extending the visibility of my work to friends of friends. I also blog on a cryptocurrency incentivized platform called Steemit. I haven’t made any sales through Twitter yet, but I’ve been lucky enough to get a couple celebrity likes, and one retweet.
What kinds of clients have you had over the years?
In the first few years, all my sales were to friends, family, and acquaintances. Most people wanted to be supportive and make sure I could afford to eat. As my skills improved and my ability to apply to shows improved, people started buying pieces of mine off the walls of galleries, cafes, and restaurants.
I couldn’t tell you much about the people I don’t get to meet, but I have a client whom I met in Finland many years ago who has bought a few pieces, a client who owns bed and breakfast in New Brunswick who bought about fourteen pieces a couple of years ago, and I’ve started to do very well with pet portrait commissions.
Were you able to keep working this past year? In what ways did you adapt to the COVID situation?
My financially supplemental gigs fell out for Covid, but I was still able to paint. However, I did take a bit of a sabbatical for a while. The changes we’ve all had to make and the political news we endured for the entire year made it very difficult to focus on my normal work. Instead, I wrote a ten-episode comedy for nobody to read.
I didn’t get back to the easel until about October last year. Thank goodness we had government assistance to help us keep up with rent! My partner and I scratched our performance itches by doing live improvised Zoom shows with friends. I’ve also started writing comedy sketches for a podcast that launched in January. I like to think of 2020 as something of an incubation period for creative ventures. Not just viral ones.
What advice do you have for artists looking to start their own business?
There’s so much to say here. Don’t take things personally. Everyone sees and reacts through the filter of their own life experience. Focus on the quality of your work, always try to improve it, but never forget to genuinely connect to people as you make the work.
You never know what somebody is going to fall in love with until you put it out there. Figure out how your sharing platforms work, join groups, try new things, keep learning. And stay honest. Trust isn’t just for romantic relationships. It’s for all your relationships. Your reputation has a wider reach than you do.
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